Thursday, October 16, 2008
foodandwaterwatch.org -- Not all is well with agriculture in Africa. In addition to the buffeting from intermittent deluge and drought, the continent is facing pressure to replace its traditional small scale farming way of life with factory-style food production that emphasizes growing more of fewer types of crops, such as corn, cotton, and sorghum, for export around the world. Along with that, U.S.-based global agrochemical and grain trading corporations are pushing for greater use of specialty seeds, including genetically engineered varieties, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers to aid the growth of those monoculture export crops. These expensive seeds and other inputs would push many subsistence and small-scale growers of diverse types of food off their land and into already overcrowded cities.
This transformation is being marketed under the guise of helping African farmers produce more food to deal with hunger. Leading the way are the Gates and Rockefeller foundations, which are investing $150 million into their Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa project, which they regard as essential for food security and enhanced economic development on the continent.1
On its website, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, also known as AGRA or the Alliance, describes itself as an organization led by Africans and as a “dynamic partnership working across the continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. Alliance programmes develop practical solutions to dramatically boost farm productivity and incomes while safeguarding the environment and biodiversity. To achieve this goal, Alli-ance partnerships focus on key aspects of African agriculture: from seeds, soil health and water to markets, agricultural education and policy.” 2
The AGRA project leaders have so far played down the promotion and use of genetically modified seeds in their agenda. But an increasing number of critics fear this will change down the road after hundreds of African students are trained in biotechnology in the next two years. In July 2007, the Alliance stated that it was not against the use of genetically modified crops, but was, for the time being, “focusing on conventional methods because it could generate quick successes and fits within the regulatory framework of African countries.” 3
Josphat Ngonyo, who works with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare in Nairobi, Kenya, does not buy that line. Based on what he views as similarities between the workings of the Alliance and Monsanto, the world’s leading producer and purveyor of genetically modified seeds, Ngonyo foresees the effort pushing a combination of sophisticated and expensive hybrid and genetically modified seeds: “The way that the Gates and Rockefeller foundations have set up AGRA resembles a well known Monsanto format. AGRA purports to, among other things, finance and train small and medium sized agro-chemical dealerships, up to the village level, to make sure ‘improved seeds’ (read GMOs) have a smooth channel to flow to all farmers across the continent. But Monsanto must police its technology contracts, so its transfer from Monsanto’s labs to farmers is best controlled if the financier has a hand on the seed supply chain in Africa.” In short, this leads to corporate control of the seed supply, regardless of whether it is genetically engineered.4
The chances are good that this effort will sow as much environmental, economic, and social damage as the original Green Revolution that began in 1943 with the Rockefeller Foundation sending scientists to Mexico to develop higher-yielding varieties of wheat, maize, and other crops. It “…essentially dispersed cutting-edge U.S. agricultural technology – ‘dwarf” grain varieties, petrochemical fertilizers, and large-scale irrigation systems –– through much of Latin America and South-east Asia…Where the program took hold, grain yields surged, the prices farmers fetched for them on global markets plunged –– and small-scale farmers lost out…Unable to compete with larger operations –– which had the cash to buy the Green Revolution ‘package’ of hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides and could access lavishly funded irrigation projects –– smallholders began a mass migration to the cities in the 1960s and ‘70s. In Southeast Asia, long held up as one of the Green Revolution’s success stories, the urban population swung from 20 percent in 1975 to 35 percent in 2000.” 5
Poverty increased in Latin America and in Asia as a result of thousands of people being pushed off their land by those changes in agriculture and into cities unable to house or employ them.
GMO protesters in Africa
The same scenario could be in store for Africa as industrial agriculture takes hold: “In most large cities of Africa, the population is increasingly moving to unplanned settlements on the periphery where land is cheapest. In contrast to Latin America, however, this horizontal expansion does not involve job relocation, and it reduces the efficacy of major urban infrastructure such as piped water, electricity, sewerage, and roads. The projected average annual growth rate of the urban population in Africa during 2000 through 2020, 3.9 percent, portends that settlements will only deteriorate, particularly in the absence of sustained economic growth. Of equal concern to some commentators is the proliferation of ‘urban villages’ of 200,000 to 400,000 residents, large towns and small cities that typically lack the most basic amenities for a decent standard of living. The UN anticipates that in 2020 60 percent of urbanites in Africa will reside in cities with fewer than 500,000 residents, making urban development planning for small locales a continued priority.” 6
The risks to Africa of fully adopting industrial agriculture in general and GM seeds in particular include:
* transferring its food and farming decisions –– its food sovereignty –– to global corporations,
* losing ecological and agricultural diversity as genetically modified crop varieties spread through pollen contamination, and
* driving small- and medium-scale family farmers off their land because they cannot afford the expensive inputs, including genetically modified seeds, that industrial agriculture demands.
To head off such an outcome, first in Kenya and then across Africa, the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition of farmer, faith-based, consumer and other organizations, including Ngonyo’s Africa Network for Animal Welfare, is looking to strengthen the badly crafted and weak biosafety bill: “…the current bill is not comprehensive and inclusive i.e. the bill purports to ad-dress Biosafety issues whereas it actually focuses on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) to which, according to a re-cent media poll, 81 percent of Kenyans are opposed to. It excludes more pertinent Biosafety issues such as edible vaccines from crops and animals…” 7
The coalition argues that the proposed legislation fails to adopt the precautionary principle –– the concept that proponents of a potentially harmful technology must show that it will not cause harm before society allows for it to be introduced –– or to consider how genetically modified seeds and crops could harm human health, the environment, the indigenous seed supply, and food security.8
SIGN the petition to help Kenyans safeguard against GMOs!
READ what Friends of AGRA are up to in Ethiopia.